Race & Ethnicity

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  • VIDEO: Stop Calling Donald Trump “Controversial”

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    News networks frequently use the word “controversial” to describe Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican comments, and it’s setting a dangerous precedent for the way the media talks about bigotry in American politics.

    Trump’s candidacy has brought religious and racial bigotry to the forefront of Republican presidential politics. He’s repeatedly demonized Muslims and Mexicans on the campaign trail, scapegoating them as security threats to justify calling for mass deportations, government surveillance, and travel bans.

    That has put news networks in the uncomfortable position of trying to remain “impartial” while covering Trump’s increasingly deplorable rhetoric. Instead of plainly labeling his campaign as “bigoted,” networks have used neutral-sounding terms like “controversial” to avoid making editorial judgments about Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican positions.

    But calling Trump’s comments “controversial” is lazy and dangerous. It treats racial and religious intolerance as just a quirk of Republican politics. It normalizes that intolerance, turning it into an unremarkable and routine partisan disagreement. It lets Trump’s defenders spin his comments as just evidence of his “tough” stance on immigration or border security. And it makes it easier for Trump to reinvent himself as a serious “presidential” candidate as he prepares for the general election.

    Failing to call out Trump’s bigotry also makes it harder for news networks to accurately tell the story of Trump’s rise in Republican politics. As PBS’s Tavis Smiley explained on Democracy Now in January:

    Trump is still, to my mind at least, an unrepentant, irascible religious and racial arsonist. And so, when we talk about how Donald Trump is rising in the poll, you can’t do that absent the kind of campaign he’s running, the issues that he’s raising. And for us to just say, "Donald Trump is rising in the polls," and not connect that to the base message that he’s putting out there, I think, just misses the point.

    Religious and racial bigotry deserves to be treated differently than other campaign trail stories, especially by journalists. News networks that shy away from making editorial judgments about Trump’s extremism are setting a dangerous precedent -- one that could last long beyond this election cycle.

  • Here’s What To Avoid When Reporting On Student Debt

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    April 25 marked the fourth anniversary of outstanding student loan debt topping $1 trillion in the United States, yet media still aren’t always telling the full story on college affordability and student debt. If the public thinks the student debt crisis only affects white, upper middle class borrowers enrolled in impractical programs at four-year colleges and universities, the media aren't​ doing their​ jobs.​

    It’s time for media to recognize the realities of the nation’s student debt burden. Outlets should stop ignoring the voices of students and borrowers, and stop reinforcing unrealistic assumptions about how​ higher education can be paid for ​today. Here are some of the reporting tactics they ought to leave behind.

    Framing Student Debt In The Narrow Context Of Traditional, Four-Year Colleges And Universities

    Media often focus their reporting on six-figure student debt balances from prestigious and expensive four-year colleges and universities. But focusing on the experience of this narrow segment of student borrowers ignores those who are most deeply affected by student loan debt: students who take loans to pursue higher education but are unable to complete their programs, and students borrowing to attend non-traditional or for-profit programs with fewer federal grant and loan options.

    As the Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Ben Miller explained in June, “the link between debt and educational attainment is too frequently missing from national discussions on student loans.” Miller’s study found that a recent graduate with a higher debt burden was financially better off than a non-graduate who owed a smaller amount, because the graduate was more able to boost their income and pay off their balance​, resulting in fewer defaults for graduates​.

    A comprehensive report from the Brookings Institution in September highlighted the outsized student debt burden of another non-traditional group of borrowers: those who attended for-profit schools. The report concluded that “most of the increase in default [on federal student loans] is associated with the rise in the number of borrowers at for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, 2-year institutions and certain other non-selective institutions, whose students historically composed only a small share of borrowers.” The report also demonstrated that “These non-traditional borrowers were drawn from lower income families, attended institutions with relatively weak educational outcomes, and experienced​ poor labor market outcomes after leaving school.”

    It’s clear that four-year college graduates are not the majority of borrowers in default or struggling to make payments, and it should be just as clear in media coverage of the issue.

    Ignoring How Student Loan Debt Perpetuates Economic Inequality For Women, Black, And Hispanic Borrowers

    Reporting on the nation's student debt crisis without acknowledging how the debt burden disproportionately affects women and people of color is irresponsible, and it leaves out important details about how student loan debt ripples across the economy.

    Here are the facts: women are more likely to have outstanding student loan debt, and dedicate a higher percentage of their earnings ​toward paying off that debt. The gender pay gap also makes getting out of debt all the more difficult for women, in particular for black and Hispanic women. In February, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that “more women than men… are contributing more money to their student debt payments than a typical individual can reasonably afford,” and ​are ​still making a less significant dent in their outstanding loan balances. “The gap in student loan repayment is even larger for black and Hispanic women with college degrees,” the report noted.

    Black and Hispanic borrowers generally have more debt than their peers, regardless of the type of degree they pursued or the type of institution they attend. In fact, black and Hispanic students are far more likely to enroll in cheaper two-year, open-access schools, but also often have access to fewer family resources than white students and therefore must rely on student loans in greater numbers. Black and Hispanic graduates are also afforded less financial security from having a college degree.

    The nation's student debt burden feeds off of, and perpetuates, existing economic inequality. Media that ignore this phenomenon are ignoring the experiences of the majority of student loan borrowers, and are obscuring the true costs of the national student loan debt burden.

    Using Outdated Economics To Suggest Student Debt Is Avoidable With Part-Time Work And Better Decision Making

    Right-wing media figures, in particular, frequently pair discussions of student debt and college affordability with outdated anecdotes to suggest borrowers struggling to pay off student loan debt could have simply worked harder or made smarter decisions to avoid incurring debt. Here’s the reality: A​ny media figure who suggests students or recent graduates could have avoided taking out student loans not only ignores that many students do not have the resources to find alternatives, but relies on completely outdated assumptions about how much college costs in the first place.

    The fact is that college costs are rising across the board, for all types of higher education. Non-traditional programs often end up being more expensive for students, and some for-profit programs in particular, underserve students and leave them more likely to default on loans. Finding “a cheaper school” is not a real option, and making a living wage without a college degree is increasingly not an option either.

    Economists agree that higher education credentials, and in particular a bachelor’s degree, continue to have outsized positive economic benefits and are an undoubtedly “sound investment.” So pundits citing cheaper, alternative higher education programs are, at best, blindly promoting the nonexistent and, at worst, knowingly perpetuating a two-tier system of higher education where low-income students ought not to pursue the types of degrees proven to be most beneficial.

    And those anecdotes about how conservative media figures were able to pay for college with some elbow grease and a part-time job? Researchers have repeatedly found that’s just not possible anymore. An October study from Georgetown University found that while “over the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been working while enrolled,” it’s just not enough to offset the costs of school or avoid loans. “A student working full-time at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually before taxes,” the report concluded. “That isn’t enough to pay tuition at most colleges, much less room and board and other expenses.”

    Painting All College Affordability And Student Debt Policy Solutions As Equally Comprehensive

    Media coverage of student loan and college affordability policies in the 2016 presidential election is inaccurate if it attempts to frame policy solutions from both parties as equally comprehensive. Both Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ​have released comprehensive policy plans designed to bring down college costs for new students and to ease the burden of student loan debt for borrowers and recent graduates. Both plans have price tags and​ detail concrete actions on the issue. Regardless of where voters stand substantively, it is undeniable that both plans exist and are comprehensive.

    On the other hand, none of the three remaining Republican presidential candidates have released policy proposals on higher education affordability or college debt ​--​ in fact, front-​runner Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have not even dedicated website space to the issue. Gov. John Kasich (OH) includes a paragraph on college costs in his larger education platform​​, but doesn't explain what policies he'd pursue on a national scale. ​

    Recognizing that student debt is a major concern for young voters with vague public statements is not the same as offering concrete policy solutions that might help alleviate the problem. Reporting that frames policy proposals from all of the presidential candidates as equally comprehensive or equally viable in order to appear balanced is just misleading the public.

  • NY Times Ed. Board: Trump's "Makeover Efforts" Can't Obscure "His Unfitness For The Presidency"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times editorial board called out Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's "makeover efforts" at rebranding as presidential, saying they "cannot obscure his brutish agenda" or "his unfitness for the presidency."

    After Trump's campaign chief Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) that Trump’s “image is going to change,” several media figures criticized the move as a sham reinvention, noting "it is important to remember" his myriad insults and extreme rhetoric. Other media outlets continued to give Trump misplaced credit for his supposed reinvention as "presidential."

    On April 26, the Times editorial board asserted that despite Manafort's statement that Trump is "evolving," the candidate already "has reverted to bad habits...telling lies" and saying "that he hasn’t forgotten or doesn’t regret what he said about Mexicans and Muslims." The board also reported that Trump ally Roger Stone said "the presidency 'is show business' to Mr. Trump":

    Mr. Trump has hired a Henry Higgins to work on his comportment. Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s new campaign chief and an old-guard Republican strategist, has eclipsed the abrasive Corey Lewandowski and his nonnegotiable “Let Trump Be Trump” approach. Mr. Manafort’s ambition is to turn this Eliza Doolittle into a candidate more acceptable to decent society, in time for the general election.

    [...]

    But Mr. Trump has reverted to bad habits. He’s still telling lies, and earned four Pinocchios last week for saying that ISIS is “making a fortune” on Libyan oil the terrorist group doesn’t control. On the trail last week, he showed crowds that he hasn’t forgotten or doesn’t regret what he said about Mexicans and Muslims. “I sort of don’t like toning it down,” he said in Connecticut. “Isn’t it nice that I’m not one of these teleprompter guys?”

    Mr. Trump knows that to do well in Tuesday’s primaries he still needs those “motivated voters” who want him to say what other politicians won’t. Yet the Trump on the stump is the true man. However copiously applied, cosmetics cannot obscure his brutish agenda, nor the narcissism, capriciousness and most of all, the inexperience paired with intellectual laziness that would make him a disastrous president.

    [...]

    Whatever persona or good manners Mr. Trump chooses to display from now on, he can’t hide his unfitness for the presidency.

     

  • Birtherism: Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

    Blog ››› ››› JAMES CARVILLE

    Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

    After a full year of the Trump steamroller -- in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy -- the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

    You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC's Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

    Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

    The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

    I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

    In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump's campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

    I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.  

    It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American -- almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii -- and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

    Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don't seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

    Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

    But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important -- for two reasons:

    First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

    Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

    It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism -- a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, "I don't think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular... I do think I know what I'm doing.”

    I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

    With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

    * * *

    Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

    So, too, was Trump’s political career.

    The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.